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COVID-19: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

Posted By Louise Probst, Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2020

There are so many numbers: testing, infections, hospitalizations, ICU capacity, recovery, and death. Reported daily, the data show the pandemic's impact on a worldwide, national, state, and county level, as well as specific settings, like meatpacking plants or other clusters. And on it goes, with additional tallies for those furloughed, unemployed, uninsured, and in food lines; federal recovery dollars distributed; the reduction in elective medical services; and projected health care spending. It can be confusing and mind-numbing. But what do the numbers tell us? And what can we do in response?


On Monday afternoon, I almost tuned out the reports of vastly higher numbers of people in the United States projected to become infected or die from COVID-19. Shared across all major news outlets, the statistics were stunning, predicting that the U.S. death toll could exceed 3,000 lives per day by June 1st, with the growth in new cases to rise to 200,000 per day, up from the current daily rate of 25,000. I felt a bit betrayed. We are all doing our part to prevent the spread by sheltering in place, wearing masks in public, and washing our hands. We had been assured that these measures were working – so what had changed?


Testing, which still lags behind what is need to meaningfully defeat COVID-19, has increased. Several clusters have been detected in meatpacking plants and other food processing settings. New cases throughout communities, many in the Midwest, have made it clear that the virus is still here and that the risk of transmission remains high.


Perhaps, lulled by early progress reported in flattening the curve, Americans have been on the move. Monitoring of cell phone locations has found people to be more mobile over the past few weeks. Several states have entered or are about to enter early phases of reopening their economies, despite failing to achieve the White House pandemic team’s recommended criteria to do so.


A caution offered by Milliman’s actuarial team during a recent presentation came to my mind and brought relief from any pending dread: “Models are rarely correct, but often useful.” These numbers are predictions – indicators of what could happen, but not what will or has to happen.


We must resist becoming numb to the risk, lulled into complacency, and overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. We have the power to ensure that these assumptions are incorrect and never come to be. To see the latest tools to combat this disease, visit the BHC’s COVID-19 employer resource page and join us each Wednesday in May at 3:00 PM (CST) for a member-only COVID-19 Coffee Chat on evolving strategies. Each of us has a role to play, and together, we can keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our organizations safe.


Warm Regards,


Louise Y. Probst,

BHC Executive Director


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